My Paw-Paw Embree’s Favorite Meal – 1880’s Clay Baked Quail !


When I was a kid in the 1950’s my Paw-Paw Embree, my mom’s dad, told me this great story about what he felt was his favorite meal of all times.  I thought the meal must have been fantastic because I remember eating some wonderful meals at my grandparents house that consisted of his fresh caught catfish or fresh killed chicken served with wonderful, fresh out-of-the-garden vegetables and my Gran’s out-of-the-oven, homemade  bread.

Anyway, my Paw-Paw, ‘Rat’ Embree,  that was his nickname and that’s a story for another time, told me about his experience when he was about 11 years old in the 1880’s growing up in Central Missouri.  He told me that he was one of four boys who had gone down to a creek to play after a winter storm had laid a nice coating of snow with a thin sheet of ice on top.  He said they were having fun sliding around on the ice when they came close to a brush pile that was covered over with a smooth topping of snow and ice and they could hear chirping noises coming from inside the pile.

It did not take long for them to figure out there was a covey of quail trapped inside so they chipped an exit hole on one side.   Then while one boy stood on each side of the little exit with a stout stick in his hands the other two boys beat on the top of the brush pile driving the quail out so they could pop them over the head.  In just a few minutes they had a dozen birds, about the half of the covey, killed and ready to eat.  Paw-Paw told me that the boys knew that if they took the quail home and divided them between the families they wouldn’t go far at all so they decided to cook them out by the creek and keep them all for themselves.

They had heard of Indians and old-timers packing birds in clay and baking them in an open fire so they decided to give it a try.  A couple of the boys gathered wood while the other two dug beneath the snow on the creek bank and got enough moist clay to pack around each bird.  He said they did not clean the birds or pluck them they just packed them up feathers and all.  I don’t recall if he said they had anything else to eat with their quail but according to my granddad’s recollection they baked their birds for over an hour until the clay was completely hardened  and then they dug them out of the coals.

He said each boy had three quail and when they cracked open the hardened clay shell the quail were steaming hot and most of the feathers pulled off with the broken pieces.  My Paw-Paw smiled, chuckled and laughed out loud when he said it was a fantastic meal out in the cold eating fresh, steamed, tender quail.  When I asked him about the insides of the quail he said they ate the hearts and just dug the rest out with their fingers as they ate that wonderful meal.  According to him the boys agreed to keep the story to themselves because in those days, with large families and hard times, most eleven year old boys seldom got their fill of meat and that day each boy got just about all he wanted.


About the Author

Joe McElyea
I am an original member and founder of the esteemed High Plains Shooting and Dining Society which is dedicated to fellowship of bird hunters and shooters who also enjoy finding great local places to eat large, unhealthy portions of breaded and fried meats and gravies washed down with the appropriate libations. I am also a retired old man who enjoys fishing, shooting and my wonderful family.